Five years after Pennsylvania’s “Kids for Cash” juvenile court scandal, juvenile justice has been reformed in Luzerne County, Judge Thomas Burke tells the Pittston, Pa., Sunday Dispatch. Two judges pleaded guilty to corruption charges in the case, leading to a two-year string of arrests of public officials that included two state senators, a Luzerne County commissioner, a school superintendent, school directors from three districts and others who held influential posts. The judges were charged in a nearly $3 million kickback scheme connected to the construction of two for-profit juvenile detention centers and the placement of youths in those facilities.
“Working our way through a calamity is not the way we would like to see standards elevated and progress made. It's very evident both these things happened,” Burke said. Now, he says, the placement rate or the percentage of youths taken from their homes and committed to detention centers or other facilities dropped to no more than 10 percent from the 20 to 25 percent. The court has ensured every juvenile is represented by an attorney. The overall number of case dropped to between 300 and 400 compared to 1,500 in 2003, due to alternative dispositions and the use of evidence-based practices in making risk assessments.